Why do Washington voters keep rejecting a carbon fee?
This is the second time Washington voters have rejected some incarnation of a carbon fee, which would have been the first of its kind in the United States. It appears to be as unpopular here as it is everywhere else. The question is: Why?
“I think it reminds us that voters in Washington state are fiscally pretty conservative,” former Republican Attorney General of Washington Rob McKenna told Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross. “They have to be sophisticated enough to know that they should vote ‘No’ on the pollution fee, but vote ‘Yes’ to say ‘No’ to grocery taxes.”
Washington state’s latest carbon fee attempt did not pass with just 44 percent of early vote counts. Initiative 1631 proposed to place a $15 per metric ton fee on carbon emissions in Washington, starting in 2020. That fee would go up by $2 every following year. Revenue from the fee would be managed by a board and dedicated to environmental purposes.
Why McKenna supported the 2016 carbon fee, but not the 2018 version
“I supported the carbon fee back in 2016 because it was revenue neutral, it would have cut the sales tax, while increasing the cost of carbon to address climate change. I thought that was the way to go.”
This year, not so much. McKenna says he could not support this year’s carbon fee because it was not revenue neutral, and provided a large revenue increase to the state government that would have been controlled by an unelected board.
“Well, it turns out that it’s losing by the same margin as the straight up carbon tax, even though that had a tax cut built into it,” McKenna said. “So voters may be speaking pretty clearly here that they’re just not interested in going that direction.”
McKenna is not entirely opposed to a carbon tax, but believes that other taxes need to be reduced so it’s not simply a source of new tax revenue for the state.
“If you want less of it consumed, make it more expensive. But don’t penalize people. Any time you put a fee on a basic commodity, it is by nature a regressive tax. And I think that’s unacceptable unless it’s offset by a comparable reduction in another regressive tax, like the sales tax,” McKenna said. “It turns out voters don’t really care about those economic niceties; they’re going to vote ‘No’ either way. So I think this is probably done for awhile.”
“Nationally, this measure had a lot of people watching it from across the country, who hoped to pass similar carbon pricing measure there. Since it couldn’t pass in Washington, it might cause them to rethink it for other states as well,” he added.
- Tune in to KIRO Radio weekdays at 5am for Dave Ross on Seattle's Morning News.